Crisp and tender cucumbers in a vinegary dressing [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]
One thing you’ll quickly notice about Sichuan cuisine beyond the spicy stuff, is their love of fresh, crunchy pickles. No meal is complete without a dish of cold, vinegary vegetables, whether it’s turnip, cabbage, peanuts, or cucumbers. Think of them as a palate cleanser between bites of the heavier stuff. Sichuan-style smashed cucumbers are the simplest example of one of these dishes, and coincidentally my favorite one.
Why It Works
- Smashing the cucumbers helps them rapidly absorb the flavor of the vinegar and garlic.
- 1 whole English cucumber, washed, peeled in any especially thick areas (see note)
- Kosher salt
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon black vinegar or rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optonal)
Place the washed cucumber on a firm, flat, clean surface. Whack it firmly but gently with the flat side of a heavy cleaver or the bottom an 8-inch skillet. Repeat all down its length until it is completely smashed. Chop the cucumber crosswise into 1-inch pieces and transfer to a colander set in a bowl. Toss with salt and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Discard the extracted liquid and transfer the cucumbers to the bowl.
Add the garlic, the vinegar, and the sesame oil (if using) to the bowl and toss to combine. This cucumber salad is best served absolutely fresh; It will get wet and slimy as it rests in the fridge.
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